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Your Child

Why Kids Should Learn Handwriting

1:45

I think it’s fair to say that handwriting is becoming a lost art. Computers, tablets and phone keyboards have made actual writing with a pen and paper almost obsolete.

What was once an integral part of a child’s daily school lessons, today, gets about one-fourth the instruction time. What is surprising is that in the not too far future, some kids may never learn penmanship at all.

If keyboards become the most popular form of communication, is there really a need for printing and cursive skills? Yes, according to some educators. Not only will children lose the personal touch of handwriting but will they also lose the benefits learning penmanship offers the developing brain.

Putting pen to paper stimulates brain circuits involved with memory, attention, motor skills, and language in a way punching a keyboard doesn't.

"There is this assumption that we live in the computer age, and we don't need handwriting anymore. That's wrong," says Virginia Berninger, PhD, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington.

Indiana University psychologist Karin James, PhD, recently published a study looking at brain scans of preschoolers before and after they learned to produce letters, either by printing or typing. Before the lesson, the children couldn't decipher between a random shape and a letter, and their brains responded similarly to each. After they learned to hand-draw a letter, brain regions needed for reading lit up at the sight of the letter like they do in a literate adult. Learning to type a letter yielded no such change.

Other studies have shown that preschoolers that practice handwriting read better in elementary school.

Handwriting also requires concentration and teaches brain circuits responsible for motor coordination, vision, and memory to work together. "If in the future we were to take away teaching handwriting altogether, I worry there could be real negative impacts on children's development," James says.

Timed right, cursive also comes with some unique advantages. Berninger's research suggests kids who link their letters via cursive get a better handle on what those words look like and end up being better spellers, she says. Cursive also allows them to compose their thoughts faster than in block handwriting or via typing (at least until about seventh grade, when their brains become mature enough to manage two-handed typing quickly).

Berninger says parents can offer their children extra guidance with learning handwriting even before their child begins school and through their early years. Some children may learn these skills quicker and some may need a little more practice. But on an average:

Preschoolers can strengthen motor skills by playing with clay, stringing beads, working through mazes, and connecting dots with arrows to form letters.

From kindergarten through second grade, children should master block letters.

Third to fourth grade is when kids can begin and master cursive.

By fifth grade, children should continue to write by hand while being introduced to typing by touch (not just hunt and peck.)

As I’ve become more accustomed to using my computer or phone to communicate with others, I’ve noticed that my own handwriting skills are beginning to suffer. Cursive isn’t as fluid and readable as when I handwrote more often and my eye, hand and pen coordination isn’t near as comfortable as it used to be. 

I hope future generations will not lose the art of handwriting, not only because of the developmental benefits it offers, but because each person’s handwriting is unique to them.

Story source: Lisa Marshall, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/handwriting-matters-kids#1

Your Child

40% of Children 3 to 11 Are Exposed to Secondhand Smoke

2:00

The good news is that exposure to secondhand smoke dropped by half in the United States between 1999 and 2012. While more and more people are giving up the unhealthy habit, the amount of children being exposed to secondhand smoke is still significant – particularly in the African-American population. 

In a recent report, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 58 million American nonsmokers are exposed to secondhand smoke.

In that group, the CDC suggests that 40 percent of children aged 3 to 11 are breathing in secondhand smoke and among black children, the number is much higher at 70 percent.

"Secondhand smoke can kill, and too many Americans -- and particularly too many children -- are still exposed to secondhand smoke," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said during a midday press conference.

Frieden, citing the U.S. Surgeon General, said, "There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke." Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals including about 70 that can cause cancer, he added.

The connection of secondhand smoke and illnesses in children has been widely studied and reported. In infants and children, secondhand smoke has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections, ear infections and asthma attacks.

In adult nonsmokers, passive smoke has been tied to heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, according to Frieden.

Each year, secondhand smoke kills more than 41,000 Americans from lung cancer and heart disease, and causes 400 deaths from SIDS, Frieden said. "These deaths are entirely preventable," he added.

Susan Liss, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement: "The high level of child exposure to secondhand smoke also underscores the need for parents to take additional steps to protect children, such as ensuring that homes, cars and other places frequented by children are smoke-free. For parents who smoke, the best step to protect children is to quit smoking."

Smoking can become such a mindless habit that parents and caregivers forget that their children are breathing in the smoke they exhale. In nonsmoking homes, it can be difficult when friends or other family members want to light up when visiting. Asking people to either step outside or not smoke in the house has caused many a friends and family rift. But, standing your ground will protect your child from the influence of smoking and the polluted air that flows from a smoker.

Most restaurants, bars and workplaces have issued smoke-free policies but one's home and auto are open to personal choice. The number of U.S. households that are now smoke-free has increased in the past 20 years from 43 percent to 83 percent and that’s truly amazing considering our long love affair with cigarettes and cigars!

However, when 1 in 4 nonsmokers – including many children-are still being exposed, it’s going to take more parents, friends and family members to put down their cigarettes for good to finally stop children and adults from suffering the disastrous effects of breathing in secondhand smoke.

Source: Steven Reinberg, http://consumer.healthday.com/kids-health-information-23/adolescents-and-teen-health-news-719/58-million-americans-exposed-to-secondhand-smoke-cdc-696149.html

Your Child

Probiotics Reduce Diarrhea and Respiratory Infections

2.00 to read

A daily dose of probiotics can reduce the occurrences of diarrhea or respiratory tract infections in children who attend day care according to a new study.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are similar to the natural and beneficial microorganisms found in the gut. They are often referred to as “good bacteria.”

In a study in Mexico, researchers tested 336 healthy children ages 6 months to 3 years who were attending day care centers. Half received a daily dose of Lactobacillus reuteri, a beneficial gut bacterium naturally present in many foods and in most people; the other half got an identical placebo.

The children were given probiotics or the placebo for 3 months and then followed for another 3 months without the supplements. During the study, 69 episodes of diarrhea were reported in the placebo group and 42 in the group receiving the probiotics. The placebo group had 204 respiratory tract infections, compared with 93 in those taking L. reuteri. And the placebo takers spent an average of 4.1 days on antibiotics, while the supplement users averaged 2.7 days. The differences persisted during the 12-week follow-up.

“What’s notable here is that they used a specific probiotic in a good design and they also did follow-up,” said Stephen S. Morse, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia University who was not involved in the study. “This strengthens the evidence for the value of probiotics, but we still have a lot to learn.”

The research group concluded that a daily administration of probiotics in healthy children in day care centers “had a significant effect in reducing episodes and duration of diarrhea and respiratory tract infection, with consequent cost savings for the communities”.

Probiotics have been added to many food and beverage products making it easier for parents to add them to their child’s diet.

The most common food is yogurt but some manufacturers have added probiotics to ice creams, granola bars, cereals, juices and yes…even pizza.

Some parents swear by probiotics saying that they have eased their children’s symptoms of colic, eczema and intestinal problems.

Antibiotics kill bad bacteria, but they can also kill the good bacteria and throw a child’s gut flora out of balance - leading to gastrointestinal distress. Previous studies have shown that adding supplements or foods containing probiotics to a child’s diet can have a positive affect on his or her bacterial balance.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics and was supported by a grant from a manufacturer of probiotic supplements.

Sources: Nicholas Bakalar, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/17/probiotic-eases-ills-in-children/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

Nancy Gottesman, http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/feeding/healthy-eating/probiotics-the-friendly-bacteria/

Parenting

Calming Kid’s Pre-Surgery Anxiety: iPads or Drugs?

1:00

Once you think about it, it makes a lot of sense; a new study shows that iPads work as well as sedative drugs to calm anxious kids before surgery.

Researchers assessed 112 children between 4 and 10 years old in France who had day surgery requiring general anesthesia. Twenty minutes before receiving the anesthesia, 54 kids were given the sedative midazolam and 58 were handed an iPad to distract them.

Guess what they found. The anxiety level for both groups was about the same. However, iPads conferred none of the side effects of sedatives, the researchers said. Also, they said the kids given iPads were easier to anesthetize.

"Our study showed that child and parental anxiety before anesthesia are equally blunted by midazolam or use of the iPad," said Dr. Dominique Chassard and colleagues at Hospital Femme-Mere-Enfant in Bron, France. "However, the quality of induction of anesthesia, as well as parental satisfaction, were judged better in the iPad group."

As any parent knows, iPads and other tablets offer an endless amount of entertainment to help children relax. From music to cartoons to games, there are plenty of programs available to take a child’s mind off of the current situation.  It’s not surprising they would work to help alleviate anxiety before something as scary as surgery. 

The study was to be presented this week at the World Congress of Anesthesiologists meeting in Hong Kong. Researched presented at medical meetings is considered preliminary.

Story source: Robert Preidt, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20160830/ipads-calm-surgery-bound-kids-as-well-as-sedatives

 

Parenting

What Do Kids Need to Succeed in School?

2:00

Does poverty impact a child’s ability to do well in school? Possibly says a new study, but parenting skills play a more important role.

Child development experts say that there are lots of things parents can do to help their young child grow into a successful adult. This study examines the importance of parents, especially those in the low-income bracket, having high educational expectations for their child as well as reading to them and providing computer access and training.

The path to success begins before your child heads off to kindergarten. These findings point to the importance of doing more to prepare children for kindergarten, said study co-author Dr. Neal Halfon, director of the Center for Healthier Children, Families & Communities at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"The good news is that there are some kids doing really well," he said. "And there are a lot of seemingly disadvantaged kids who achieve much beyond what might be predicted for them because they have parents who are managing to provide them what they need."

The researchers wanted to examine what it takes to help a child succeed in school. The team began by examining statistics to better understand the role of factors like poverty. "We didn't want to just look at poor kids versus rich kids, or poor versus all others," Halfon said.

Conventional thought is that "you'll do better if you get read to more, you go to preschool more, you have more regular routines and you have more-educated parents," Halfon added.

Researchers examined results of a study of 6,000 U.S. English and Spanish- speaking children who were born in 2001. The kids took math and reading tests when they entered kindergarten, and their parents answered survey questions. The investigators then adjusted the results so they wouldn't be thrown off by high or low numbers of certain types of kids.

Parental expectations played a role in how the children’s future scholastic goals were perceived. For example, only 57 percent of parents of kids who scored the worst expected their child to attend college, compared to 96 percent of parents of children who scored the highest.

The results showed that children who attended preschool scored higher on the tests than children who didn’t. Computer use at home was also more common for the higher scorers -- 84 percent compared to 27 percent. Parents also read more to the kids who scored the best, the findings showed.

Halfon noted that the parent’s own attitude about preschool had a big impact on whether their child attended or not.

Karen Smith, a pediatric psychologist with the University of Texas Medical Branch, praised the study and said it points to the importance of helping poorer parents develop parenting skills and start believing they can really support their children.

"Parents from more affluent families know what to do when it comes to reading to their kids, probably because they've been read to," Smith said. Poorer parents "may not even have the money for books, and maybe they weren't read to themselves."

The study points out that preschool attendance is crucial for helping children develop better learning skills, however, it’s not the only factor that plays an important role.

Smith and Halfon agreed that it's crucial to teach poorer parents how to be better at parenting. Still, Halfon said, "there's no single one magic bullet that's going to solve the problem," not even widening access to preschool. "That's necessary," he said, "but it's probably not sufficient."

Parents that make their child’s education an important part of their childrearing help their children succeed most. Reading to children is a key part of developing a child’s attitude towards studying and expression.  A child that is excited to learn new words and is able to understand the flow of a story learns how to express their own ideas better with less frustration. New challenges aren’t as daunting.

Computer use is essential in this day and age. Libraries can provide access to computers for families that cannot afford to buy one. It takes time and commitment and when money is scarce it’s often twice as difficult, but it can make an enormous difference in a child’s ability to keep up with changing technology as well opening up a new world of opportunities.

Children rely solely on their parent’s guidance and this study points out how much that guidance can change the course of their little one’s lives.

The study is online and comes out in print in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Source: Randy Dotinga, http://consumer.healthday.com/kids-health-information-23/child-development-news-124/family-income-expectations-key-to-kindergarten-performance-695515.html

 

Your Toddler

AAP: Winter Car Seat Safety

2:00

So far in Texas, this year’s El Nino weather pattern has made for a pretty mild winter compared to previous years. But, other areas around the country are being hit hard with a wintery punch and it’s only a matter of time till temperatures drop and snow and ice find their way to the Lone Star State.

Winter can be a bit tricky for child car seat use. While it sounds like the opposite might be true, bulky clothing such as coats and snowsuits should not be worn under the car seat harness.

More padding - more cushion right? That seems logical until you know what happens when a car crashes. In a wreck, fluffy padding immediately flattens out from the force, leaving extra space under the harness. A child can then slip through the straps and be thrown from the seat.

So how can you keep your little one warm and protected while buckled up? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has these tips to help strike a comfortable and safer balance.

·      Use a coat or blanket over the straps. You can add a blanket over the top of the harness straps or put your child's winter coat on backwards (over the buckled harness straps) after he or she is buckled up. Some parents prefer products such as poncho-style coats or jackets that zip down the sides so the back can flip forward over the harness. Keep in mind that the top layer should be removable so your baby doesn't get too hot after the car warms up.

·      Use a car seat cover ONLY if it does not have a layer under the baby. Nothing should ever go underneath your child's body or between her body and the harness straps. Be sure to leave baby's face uncovered to avoid trapped air and re-breathing. Many retailers carry car seat bundling products that are not safe to use in a car seat. Just because it's on the shelf at the store does not mean it is safe!

·      Dress your child in thin layers. Start with close-fitting layers on the bottom, like tights, leggings, and long-sleeved bodysuits. Then add pants and a warmer top, like a sweater or thermal-knit shirt. Your child can wear a thin fleece jacket over the top. In very cold weather, long underwear is also a warm and safe layering option. As a general rule of thumb, infants should wear one more layer than adults. If you have a hat and a coat on, your infant will probably need a hat, coat, and blanket.

·      Don't forget hats, mittens, and socks or booties. These help keep kids warm without interfering with car seat straps. If your child is a thumb sucker, consider half-gloves with open fingers or keep an extra pair or two of mittens handy — once they get wet they'll make your child colder rather than warmer.

·      Get an early start. If you're planning to head out the door with your baby in tow on winter mornings, you need an early start. You have a lot to assemble, and your baby may not be the most cooperative. Plus, driving in wintry conditions will require you to slow down and be extra cautious.

·      Tighten the straps of the car seat harness. Even if your child looks snuggly bundled up in the car seat, multiple layers may make it difficult to tighten the harness enough. If you can pinch the straps of the car seat harness, then it needs to be tightened to fit snugly against your child's chest.

·      Remember, if the item did not come with the car seat, it has not been crash tested and may interfere with the protection provided in a crash. Never use sleeping bag inserts or other stroller accessories in the car seat.

·      Store the carrier portion of infant seats inside the house when not in use. Keeping the seat at room temperature will reduce the loss of the child's body heat in the car.

·      Pack an emergency bag for your car. Keep extra blankets, dry clothing, hats and gloves, and non-perishable snacks in your car in case of an on-road emergency or your child gets wet on a winter outing.

·      Make sure your cell phone is charged. If there is an emergency, you want to be able to reach 911 or call for assistance in case of a flat tire or engine trouble.

This is a time when there is a lot of holiday travel from state to state or just down the road to grandma’s house.

Remember, it’s not just children in car seats whose coats shouldn’t be tucked under the harness, adults and older children should make sure their coats are on the outside of the seat-belt.

Little steps can make a big difference in everyone’s safety.

Source: https://healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Winter-Car-Seat-Safety-Tips.aspx

Parenting

Most Parents Give Their Child the Wrong Medicine Dose

1:30

According to a new study, most parents accidently give their child the wrong dose of liquid medication – sometimes, as much as twice the amount they should have.

The study, conducted at pediatric clinics in New York, Atlanta and Stanford, Calif., also found that most dosing errors occurred when parents used a measuring cup. There were fewer errors when parents measured the dose with an oral syringe.

Pediatric medicines generally rely on liquid formulations, and parents have to decipher a sometimes, bewildering assortment of instructions in different units with varying abbreviations — milliliters, mL, teaspoon, tsp., tablespoon. Some medicines come with a measuring tool, but often the units on the label are different from those on the tool. It can be very confusing, especially for a parent trying to treat a sick child.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended in 2013 that over-the-counter products use a standard dosing tool with consistent labeling. The changes however, were not required.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommended standard dosing tools for OTC products last year.

For this study, Dr. H. Shonna Yin and her colleagues ran an experiment to see what combination of tools and instructions would produce the fewest errors in dispensing liquid medication. They randomly assigned 2,110 parents to one of five pairings of the many possible combinations of tools and label instructions.

In nine trials, 84.4 percent of the parents made at least one dosing error, and more than 68 percent of the errors were overdoses. About 21 percent of parents at least once measured out more than twice the proper dose. Smaller doses produced more errors. When the dose was 2.5 milliliters, there were more than four times as many errors as when it was 5 milliliters.

The difference in errors was the tool used to give the medication. When a cup was used, there were four times as many errors as when an oral syringe was used.

“If the parents don’t have an oral syringe, the provider should give one to the parents to take home,” said Dr. Yin, who is an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University. “Especially for smaller doses, using the syringe made a big difference in accuracy.”

If you don’t have an oral syringe at your home, you can check with your pediatrician or pharmacist and they should be able to help you choose the right one for your child.

The study was published online in the journal, Pediatrics.

Story source: Nicholas Bakalar, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/well/family/most-parents-give-the-wrong-dose-of-liquid-medication.html?WT.mc_id=SmartBriefs-Newsletter&WT.mc_ev=click&ad-keywords=smartbriefsnl&_r=0

Your Teen

HPV Vaccine, Proving Effective in Teenage Girls

2:00

While the controversy over the HPV vaccine may continue in some circles, a new study says the vaccine is proving effective in teenage girls.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was introduced 10 years ago and its use immediately became a hot topic. The vaccine is recommended for young girls and boys ages 11 and 12, to protect them from the sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical as well as anal, penile, mouth and throat cancers. 

The study found that in teenage girls, the virus’s prevalence has been reduced by two-thirds.

Even for women in their early 20s, a group with lower vaccination rates, the most dangerous strains of HPV have still been reduced by more than a third.

“We’re seeing the impact of the vaccine as it marches down the line for age groups, and that’s incredibly exciting,” said Dr. Amy B. Middleman, the chief of adolescent medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, who was not involved in the study. “A minority of females in this country have been immunized, but we’re seeing a public health impact that is quite expansive.”

HPV vaccinations rates, in young girls and boys, have slowly been increasing, since the vaccine was introduced, but 4 out of 10 adolescent girls and 6 out of 10 adolescent boys have not started the recommended HPV vaccine series, leaving them vulnerable to cancers caused by HPV infections.

That is partly because of the implicit association of the vaccine with adolescent sexual activity, rather than with its explicit purpose: cancer prevention. Only Virginia, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia require the HPV vaccine.

The latest research examined HPV immunization and infection rates through 2012, but just in girls. The recommendation to vaccinate boys became widespread only in 2011; they will be included in subsequent studies.

Using data from a survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the study examined the prevalence of the virus in women and girls of different age groups during the pre-vaccine years of 2003 through 2006. (The vaccine was recommended for girls later in 2006.) Researchers then looked at the prevalence in the same age groups between 2009 and 2012.

By those later years, the prevalence of the four strains of HPV covered by the vaccine had decreased by 64 percent in girls ages 14 to 19. Among women ages 20 to 24, the prevalence of those strains had declined 34 percent. The rates of HPV in women 25 and older had not fallen.

“The vaccine is more effective than we thought,” said Debbie Saslow, a public health expert in HPV vaccination and cervical cancer at the American Cancer Society. As vaccinated teenagers become sexually active, they are not spreading the virus, so “they also protect the people who haven’t been vaccinated,” she said.

Many doctors are pressing for primary care providers to strongly recommend the HPV vaccine in tandem with the other two that preteen children now typically receive.

Many health experts are hoping that the positive results from this study will encourage more pediatricians and primary care physicians to discuss getting the vaccine with parents of young children.

The study was published in the online journal Pediatrics.

Source: Jan Hofman, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/health/vaccine-has-sharply-reduced-hpv-in-teenage-girls-study-says.html?ref=health

Your Baby

Thousands of Head Injuries Related to Strollers and Baby Carriers

2:00

According to a new report, between 1990 and 2010, an estimated 316,000 children five years or younger suffered injuries from strollers and baby carriers that were serious enough to land them in the ER.

The analysis found that in 1990, fewer than one in five accidents in strollers or baby carriers resulted in traumatic brain injuries or concussions. But by 2010, 42 percent of children in stroller accidents and 53 percent of babies in carrier accidents who were treated in emergency rooms were found to have suffered a brain injury or concussion.

The higher rate of brain injuries does not necessarily mean that strollers and carriers are more dangerous now than in the 1990s. It could be that physicians and other medical care providers have become more aware of traumatic brain injury and concussion and are reporting these types of injury, said Kristin J. Roberts, the study’s co-author and a research associate in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

The data showed that the majority of the injuries (55 percent) occurred in children who were younger than 1 year old, and most of the injuries occurred when children fell from a stroller or carrier or when they tipped over. The head and face most commonly took the brunt of the falls.

“It’s not uncommon to see a child who has fallen out of a carrier that was placed on a bed or a child who was not strapped into a stroller,” said Dr. Leslie Dingeldein, a pediatric emergency physician at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

While the study showed that an average of 17,187 children each year end up in hospital emergency rooms because of stroller and carrier injuries, overall injury rates associated with these accidents declined over the 21-year period studied.

Roberts also noted that the incidences of stroller and carrier accidents might be even higher because the data doesn’t include injuries treated at pediatricians’ offices, private urgent care facilities or at home.

The study authors noted that in 2014, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued updated standards that addressed potential stroller-related hazards such as hinges, brakes, buckles, structural integrity and stability. The new standards went into effect in September of 2015, after the study’s data collection period.

“The good news for parents who rely on strollers and carriers is that new federal mandatory safety standards for these products address many of the risks to children identified in this study,” Elliot Kaye, chairman of the safety commission, said in an email to the New York Times.

The Mayo Clinic offers these safety tips when baby is in a stroller:

•       Stay close. Don't leave your baby unattended in his or her stroller.

•       Be careful with toys. If you hang toys from a stroller bumper bar to entertain your baby, make sure that the toys are securely fastened.

•       Buckle up. Always buckle your baby's harness and seat belt when taking him or her for a stroller ride.

•       Use your brakes. Engage your stroller brakes whenever you stop the stroller.

•       Properly store belongings. Don't hang a bag from the stroller's handle bar, which can make a stroller tip over.

•       Take caution when folding. Keep your baby away from the stroller as you open and fold it, since small fingers can get caught in stroller hinges. Always make sure the stroller is locked open before you put your child in it.

•       Keep it out of the sun. During hot weather, don't let your baby's stroller sit in the sun for long periods of time. This can cause plastic and metal pieces to become hot enough to burn your baby. If you leave the stroller in the sun, check the stroller's surface temperature before placing your baby in the stroller.

•       Check for recalls. Return the stroller warranty card so that you'll be notified in case of a recall. If you're considering a used stroller, make sure the stroller hasn't been recalled.

The report was published in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

Story sources: Rachel Rabkin Peachman, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/08/17/more-head-injuries-reported-for-babies-in-stroller-accidents/

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/stroller-safety/art-20043967?pg=2

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